Distortion pedals are a great way to put some extra "punch" into your guitar riffs. They can take a quiet, sedate guitar melody and turn it into a hard, driving attack that really makes your song stand out.

While these pedals are a great tool, they aren't a one-size-fits-all solution to your guitar needs. Sometimes, using a distortion pedal won't get you the effect you're looking for. Other times, you'll only get the effect you want when you use a "specific" type of distortion pedal. In the end, there are a lot of things to keep in mind when you make a distortion pedal a part of your guitar setup

Finding the Right Type for You

There are many different types of distortion pedals that you can choose from. Each of these types carry with them a different tonality and overall feel in the sounds they produce. The two big categories of distortion pedals for you to learn about are "fuzz" distortion pedals and "overdrive" distortion pedals.

Fuzz distortion pedals are used to "thicken up" the sound of your guitar. For the most part, they add a large amount of bass to your guitar signal and make things sound a little muddled. Fuzz distortion is a lot more overbearing than other types of distortion and is often only used in specific types of music.

Overdrive distortion pedals are designed to simulate tube amps. Tube amps have gain and distortion dials that you can use to pus the signal into overdrive. This is where the term "overdrive distortion" comes from. The pedals that have been made to replicate this effect are build to sound like a tube amp whose gain has been pushed too far. The result is a distorted guitar signal that isn't as muddled or mushy as that of a fuzz distortion pedal.

Using the Dials

Most distortion pedals come with dials for distortion/gain, tone and level. Level is usually used interchangeably with the term "volume" on distortion pedals.

The distortion/gain setting of the pedal is the level to which the signal is processed by the pedal. Higher amounts of gain equate to greater distortion in the guitar signal.

The tone dial impacts the tonality of the guitar signal. This makes the signal sound "warmer" or harsher depending on how you dial things in.

The level setting is the volume of the effect you're using. This can be boosted through the pedal to impact how loud the distortion will be in your amp.

These settings all impact each other in different ways depending on how they're dialed in. Higher levels of gain with a tone that isn't very warm can make the overall distortion sound extremely harsh. Altering these settings will allow you to design your sound in a way that sounds most appealing to you.

Don't Skimp

No matter what type of distortion pedal you choose, it's important to not buy excessively cheap pedals. Due to the heavy use and risk of impact damage that come with distortion pedals, you want to be sure you're using something tough.